November 6, 2013

Welcome to the Beer Revolution

If you’re a beer lover (like me) and if you live in Israel (like me), you must have noticed that the last five or so years have been kind to us.

The Israeli beer culture is booming.  Stores and restaurants and pubs now offer the beer-drinking public a heady assortment of local and imported beers of all types and variations: ales and lagers, stouts and wheats, dubbels and tripels, fruits and bitters.  Go into almost any liquor store and you can’t help but notice that more and more shelf space is taken up by a rainbow choice of beers from all over the world.

 Home brewing is also taking off.  There are more places to buy equipment and ingredients to begin brewing beer in your own kitchen.  It’s a serious hobby in which, like stamp collecting or playing golf, you can invest as much time, interest and money as you want.  And the end result is not a lower handicap, but 19 liters of delicious and inexpensive beer. 

Amitai seems more interested
in the beer than in grandpa.

My neighbor here in Pisgat Ze’ev is an avid home brewer, and he boils up his wort and mixes in the malt extract, hops and yeast (and maybe some secret ingredients) right in his own kitchen.  Less than three weeks later, he has excellent beer – which he generously shares with favored neighbors who appreciate the quality!  

But most of all, boutique breweries (also known as craft breweries) have been springing up all over the country, liberating Israeli brew-quaffers from the duopoly of industrially-brewed, flavor-deficient beers.  No more is the choice between Tempo Beer Industries (Goldstar, Nesher and Maccabee) or Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. (Carlsberg and Tuborg).  They may hold the major share of the market, but not of the taste.  Independent small breweries are changing the way Israelis think about beer.  People who have been saying, “No, I don’t drink beer” all of their lives, are now saying, “Hmm. That one’s good!”  Just ask my wife Trudy.  

Today, there are over 20 licensed commercial boutique breweries in Israel.  The first one was probably Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, opened in 2006 by American immigrant David Cohen.  David’s bandanaed head is a familiar sight at beer festivals and other social events, and his beautiful beers are readily available at many liquor stores and bars. 

The most recent boutique brewery may be Herzl Beers in Jerusalem – but I really can’t say because another one may be opening somewhere in Israel as I write these words.

Unfortunately, at the same time, others may be closing.  Which brings me to my last point for this posting: As the competition among craft beers heats up, sadly there will be casualties.  In order to survive, brewers will need more than an excellent product and a presence at beer and food fairs.  They have to be skilled marketers who get their beers into shops, restaurants and pubs.  Price is important too, but, as whiskey and wine sellers will tell you, Israelis are ready to pay for quality.  The sales tax on beer in Israel is quite high.  Although it affects all beer sales, it hits the small craft brewers harder, since the industrial brewers have the volume to absorb part of the tax. 

I recently noticed six packs of Butterfly beer (brewed in the Ramat Dalton industrial estate in the Upper Galilee) on sale near the Machane Yehuda shuk for only NIS 30!  I tried to contact Butterfly to find out how they could sell their beer at such a ridiculously low price – not that I was opposed at all!  I became suspicious when the phone number and the website both weren’t working.  I did some research and discovered (without much surprise) that Butterfly had gone out of business a few months earlier.  The remaining beer was obviously being dumped on the market to be sold at any price. 

Butterfly had its fans, but I found only the Sunset (dark ale) swallowable.  That may help to explain why Butterfly went belly up.  I don’t know.  But our craft breweries must remember that they are now competing against each other, and not only against the big guys.  They will have to give us, the beer drinkers, the best beer at the best price.  It’s a jungle out there.            


  1. Anonymous11/09/2013

    Hey, just discovered this blog while searching Google for info on Herzl Brewery. (You're the only site that comes up in English!) I sincerely hop (sic.) you stick around -- you've only made two posts, it seems, but already are a valuable resource. Speaking of Jerusalem brewers, recently I heard about one in the Nahlaot area of the city called Teverya Street Beer. Haven't had a chance to check them out in the flesh, and they seem more into standard brews than craft ones like Herzl...but the more the merrier. There's finally starting to be a true local boutique brewing scene in our capital.

    1. Thanks, whoever you are. I definitely intend to stick around. If you can find out any more about Teverya Street Beer, I'd like to know. I want my web log to be as inclusive as possible -- for any good beer, of course.


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